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Poker Player Looks Good to Hill

keeneland start

When Gary and Mary West’s Poker Player finished fourth in his racing debut Aug. 22 at Arlington Park, jockey Channing Hill did not have much time to form an opinion of the Harlan’s Holiday colt.

“I was in the same race,” Hill said. “Florent (Geroux) rode him and said he was lugging in a bit and a little green, so my first impression was not too favorable.”

Fast forward three weeks, and in one race initial impressions changed.

“When I rode him at Kentucky Downs, I let him fall away from the gate and let him settle,” Hill said. “I thought I had left him too much to do. But when we kicked for home, he made up a lot of ground and it was unbelievable that he did it as easy as he did even though he was still a little green.”

Poker Player used a similar, late-running style to win the Bourbon (G3) by a length on Oct. 6 to merit a spot in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita.

“When he won here, he was much more professional, especially going back to a two-turn race as compared with the course at Kentucky Downs,” Hill said.

Trainer Wayne Catalano said Poker Player is scheduled to breeze on the turf Thursday morning and would leave for California on Sunday.

Hill will follow a few days after and hopes to ride a few races at Santa Anita before the Juvenile Turf that will go as the second of five Breeders’ Cup races on Nov. 1.

“This is what you come in the game for, to go to events like the Breeders’ Cup,” Hill said. “It is nice to have one that is good enough to go. It is an exciting time and one to relish.”

The post position draw for all 14 Breeders’ Cup races will be Monday.

“I hope to get a good trip,” said Hill, who never has ridden in the Breeders’ Cup. “In a couple of weeks, I could be real famous.”




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